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Friday, May 15, 2015

Parashat B'har-Bechukotai 5775

We are often asked to evaluate the worth of people. I know when I have done so, I need to balance the instinct between wanting everyone to be told they did well, while also rewarding those who have completed tasks more successfully. The end of parashat Bechukotai tells us about the laws of arakhin [ערכין] which are vows to give the value of a person to the sanctuary and presumably standing in for giving the actual person. This system tries to balance the two instincts of evaluating worth: on one hand trying for equality, on the other trying to reward people who actually are more valuable to society. In our parashah, the values are determined based on only two factors: age and sex [a question of sex versus gender would be interesting, but way beyond the scope of my knowledge of the valuation laws]. On one hand, this is amazingly equalizing: two twenty-five year old men are always equal in this system no matter their profession, intelligence, personality, etc. This stands in opposition to a system of vows (covered in the Mishnayot on the topic) for the slave market value of a person. However, it also essentializes age and sex in terms of a person’s worth to society, something I find uncomfortable. I think this system both affirms a modern commitment to equality, but also challenges us to think how far we want to and are willing to go with that equality, even if we are troubled by the system created by the Torah. Here I present this system as a difficult balance between egalitarianism and true value.

To begin with, let us look at the verses on this topic.
ויקרא פרשת בחקותי פרק כז
Leviticus, Chapter 27
(1) Then Hashem said to Moshe, saying:
(א) וַיְדַבֵּר יְקֹוָק אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר:
(2) Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: A man, when he makes a special vow at the value of of life to Hashem.
(ב) דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם אִישׁ כִּי יַפְלִא נֶדֶר בְּעֶרְכְּךָ נְפָשֹׁת לַיקֹוָק:
(3) Then the valuation of a male from twenty years until sixty years, the valuation shall be fifty shekel of silver, from the shekel of the sanctuary.
(ג) וְהָיָה עֶרְכְּךָ הַזָּכָר מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְעַד בֶּן־שִׁשִּׁים שָׁנָה וְהָיָה עֶרְכְּךָ חֲמִשִּׁים שֶׁקֶל כֶּסֶף בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ:
(4) And if it is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekel.
(ד) וְאִם־נְקֵבָה הִוא וְהָיָה עֶרְכְּךָ שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁקֶל:
(5) And if from five years until twenty years, then the valuation of a male shall be twenty shekel and for a female ten shekel.
(ה) וְאִם מִבֶּן־חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וְעַד בֶּן־עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְהָיָה עֶרְכְּךָ הַזָּכָר עֶשְׂרִים שְׁקָלִים וְלַנְּקֵבָה עֲשֶׂרֶת שְׁקָלִים:
(6) And if from a month to five years, then the valuation of a male shall be five shekel of silver and for a female the valuation is three shekel of silver.
(ו) וְאִם מִבֶּן־חֹדֶשׁ וְעַד בֶּן־חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וְהָיָה עֶרְכְּךָ הַזָּכָר חֲמִשָּׁה שְׁקָלִים כָּסֶף וְלַנְּקֵבָה עֶרְכְּךָ שְׁלֹשֶׁת שְׁקָלִים כָּסֶף:
(7) And if from sixty years and up, if it is a male then the valuation shall be fifteen shekel and for a female ten shekel.
(ז) וְאִם־מִבֶּן־שִׁשִּׁים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה אִם־זָכָר וְהָיָה עֶרְכְּךָ חֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר שָׁקֶל וְלַנְּקֵבָה עֲשָׂרָה שְׁקָלִים:

Here is a basic chart summarizing the verses above:

60+ years
20 years - 60 years
5 years - 20 years
1 month - 5 years

15 shekel
50 shekel
20 shekel
5 shekel
10 shekel
30 shekel
10 shekel
3 shekel

As we see below, Rebbi Meir is even willing to accept the value of non-Jews in this system based only on age and gender. Rebbi Yehudah has reservations.
משנה מסכת ערכין פרק א, משנה ב
Mishnah, Tractate Arakhin, Chapter 1, Mishnah 2
The non-Jew: Rebbi Meir says that he is vowed as a value but may not vow the value of others; Rebbi Yehudah says that he may vow the value of others but is not vowed as a value.
הנכרי רבי מאיר אומר נערך אבל לא מעריך רבי יהודה אומר מעריך אבל לא נערך
The Rambam actually rules like Rebbi Meir, though he is contradicted by the Ra’avad.

The Talmud gets curious about part of the inequality of the system, picking up on the fact that the ratio of gender values changes with time. Over the age of sixty, a woman drops by one third in value while a man drops by more than one third. In this next source it asks why.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת ערכין דף יט עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Arakhin, 19a
What is the difference between a female, that when she ages she stands at one third [value] versus a male who does not stand at one third?
ומאי שנא נקבה דכי מיזקנא קיימא אתילתא, ומאי שנא זכר דלא קאי אתילתא?
Said Chizkiyah, “People say, ‘An old man in the house is a foil in the house; and old woman in the house is a treasure in the house.’”
אמר חזקיה, אמרי אינשי: סבא בביתא פאחא בביתא, סבתא בביתא סימא בביתא.
Based on this answer, part of the valuation system is about the worth of a person to society. Clearly, old women were seen to drop in value less men because they can contribute more to the household. However, this is not based on some deep philosophy or investigation of economic value, but rather a folk saying. Also, based on the saying the system is still curious, for it sounds like an old woman should be worth more than an old man when the old man is still worth more in this system.

The Daf Al HaDaf brings a source which is uncomfortable with a system that does not have more axes of measuring value. After all, should not an old Torah scholar be worth more than an old am ha’aretz [regular person]?
דף על הדף ערכין דף יט עמוד א
Daf Al HaDaf, Arakhin 19a
David Abraham Mendelbaum, 20th Century Israel
He comments in the book Divrei Meir (at the end of parashat B’chukotai): At first glance the words of the Gemara seem to be understood about an old man who is an regular person who is in the house and does not have the skill to go to the house of study, for he is a regular person. Therefore he is a foil in the house. But an old woman, it is good to have her in the house.
העיר בספר דברי מאיר (סו"פ בחוקותי): ולכאורה דברי הגמ' כאן מובנים בזקן עם הארץ והוא בבית ואין בידו לילך לבהמ"ד כי הוא ע"ה, אז פחא בביתא, אבל סבתא טוב שתהי' בבית.
Surely an old man who goes and learns in the house of study is among the old sages who add wisdom. But at first glance, the Torah did not distinguish between an old man who is a regular person and a sage, for both of which it valued them at fifteen shekel.
אמנם זקן שהולך ולומד בביהמ"ד הוא מזקני ת"ח המוסיפים חכמה. ולכאורה התורה לא חילקה בין זקן ע"ה ובין זקן ת"ח ולכולם הערך חמשה עשר שקלים.
And it seems right to explain that what is stated in Avot, “A man of sixty for old age.” For then there is not so much boiling of blood and no desire like a child, and then he has a powerful battle with his will on the topic of honor. For he thinks that he is an old man who acquired wisdom and others need to honor him and he has pride.
ונראה לבאר, דאיתא באבות (פרק ה) בן ששים לזקנה דאז אין רתיחת דמים כל כך ואין לו תאוות כמו ילד, ואז יש לו מלחמה כבדה עם היצר בענין כבוד שחושב שהוא בן זקן זה שקנה חכמה וצריכים לכבד אותו ויש לו גאות
And the general principle is known, “All who are prideful it is as if they worship idolatry,” (Sotah 5a). And he and I cannot be in the same flat. But the Holy Torah told us that after sixty he is only worth fifteen shekel, less than a child of five years who is valued at twenty shekel. And from this he will not be haughty and this is the reason for connecting the portion of valuations with the Tokhachah [rebuke right before in our parashah], and one must understand this.
וידוע הכלל (סוטה ה א) כל המתגאה כאילו עובד עבודה זרה, ואין אני והוא יכולים להיות בדירה אחת. ואמרה לנו התורה הקדושה שאחר ששים אינו שוה אלא ט"ו שקלים, פחות מקטן של בן חמש שנים שהערך שלו עשרים שקלים, וע"כ לא יתגאה, וזה גם הסמיכות פרשת ערכין להתוכחה, והבן ע"כ.

The explanation he comes up with has a behavioral goal. We lower the value of all old people so they will not get upset when they do not get the respect they believe they deserve. Per this, the system is not there not to truly evaluate a person’s value, but rather to adjust their thinking about their own value.

So why not full equality? The next Midrash actually does a nice job at challenging us with a time when egalitarianism might not be appropriate.  
שמות פרשת שמות פרק ב
Exodus Chapter 2
(11) Then it was in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and saw their suffering and saw an Egyptian striking a Hebrew man from his brethren.
(יא) וַיְהִי בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם וַיִּגְדַּל מֹשֶׁה וַיֵּצֵא אֶל־אֶחָיו וַיַּרְא בְּסִבְלֹתָם וַיַּרְא אִישׁ מִצְרִי מַכֶּה אִישׁ־עִבְרִי מֵאֶחָיו:

מדרש הגדול, שמות ב:יא
Midrash HaGadol, Exodus 2:11
And saw their suffering  - He saw that they were loading up the old man like a young man and the woman like a man, and the minor like the adult.
וירא בסבלתם - ראה שהוי מטעינין את הזקן כבחור ואת האשה כאיש ואת הקטן כגדול
Then he stood and evaluated them. Therefore he merited that the portion on valuations would be given by his hand to differentiate between woman and man, old and young, minor and adult.
ועמד והשוה אותן לפיכך זכה שתינתן פרשת ערכים על ידו, להבחין בין האשה לאיש, בין הזקן לבחור, בין הקטן לגדול.
Sometimes treating people as equal can be detrimental. I cannot ask a child to carry the same burden as an adult. Based on Moshe fighting against a system of equality which was detrimental, we merited a system of vows that reminds us of Moshe’s fight.

The next Mishnah, I think, shows two perspectives on how far equality can go. Can we see human flesh merely as skin and bones and therefore equal to any other skin and bones in the animal kingdom? Or perhaps we are more than that.
משנה מסכת ערכין פרק ה, משנה א
Mishnah Tractate Arakhin, Chapter 5, Mishnah 1
Mishnah: One who says, “My weight is [an obligation on me], gives his weight. If [he said] “silver” then silver, if “gold” then gold...
מתני'. האומר משקלי עלי - נותן משקלו, אם כסף כסף, ואם זהב זהב...
“The weight of my hand [is an obligation] on me.” Rebbi Yehuda says, “He fills a barrel with water and puts it in up to his elbow. Then he weighs the meat of a donkey with bones and sinews, and puts that in until [the barrel] is filled.
משקל ידי עלי - רבי יהודה אומר: ממלא חבית מים ומכניסה עד מרפיקו, ושוקל מבשר חמור ועצמות וגידים ונותן לתוכה עד שתתמלא.
Said Rebbi Yose, “How is it possible to equate meat with meat and bones with bones? Rather, estimate the hand as it is fit to be weighed.”
אמר ר' יוסי: וכי היאך אפשר לכוין בשר כנגד בשר ועצמות כנגד עצמות? אלא שמין את היד כמה היא ראויה לשקול.
In a regime similar to, but slightly different than our topic, Rebbi Yehudah, in a nice show of understanding of density and displacement, is willing to say that a vow of the weight of the hand is merely about the weight of the components of the hand which is equivalent to the components of a donkey. Rebbi Yose, however, cannot handle such equating. This reminds us of the pitfalls of a system valuing everyone equally: equality can sometimes devalue someone’s attributes and debase them to nothing more than an animal.

Abrabanel, the great Torah commentator, takes up both the question of the equality within each category of the system and the inequality of the system between sexes.
אברבנאל ויקרא פרשת בחקותי פרק כז
Abrabanel, Leviticus Chapter 27
Don Isaac Abrabanel, 15th and 16th Centuries Spain and Italy
What did the Torah see to estimate the valuation of the vow of the life of the person when it was fitting to give it to the cohen that he would evaluate each life according to its worth? For some people are worth one hundred, and there are people who are not worth ten just like fields, property, and cattle which the cohen evaluates, why is a person not also evaluated.
מה ראתה התורה לשום ערכים בנדרי בעלי נפש אדם והיה ראוי למוסרו לכהן שיעריך כל נפש כפי שוויה כי יש אדם שוה מאה ויש אדם שאינו שוה עשרה וכמו שהשדות והאחוזות והבהמות היה מעריך הכהן למה לא יעריך האדם גם כן:
Why did the Torah make a difference between the value of a male and the value of a female, that both of them are the life of a person like was stated, “Male and female He created them and called their name, ‘Adam.’” And in matters of damages, it is stated that if an ox gores a male slave or female slave, one gives thirty shekel, and no difference was made from a male to a female?. And why was the matter not so in this commandment?
למה עשתה התורה חלוק מערך הזכר לערך הנקבה להיות שניהם נפש אדם וכמו שאמר זכר ונקבה בראם ויקרא את שמם אדם והנה בענין הנזיקים נאמר אם עבד יגח השור או אמה כסף שלשים שקלים יתן ולא עשה הבדל מהזכר לנקבה ולמה לא היה הדבר כן במצוה הזאת:
And here with vows that are like these, the Torah did not want the cohen to evaluate the lives of people as if they were a horse or donkey, for perhaps one vows [the value] of a wise son that he has, and if the cohen will evaluate him, the man will give all that he has for his [son’s] life. And that it is not fitting to evaluate the children of Israel at the value of slave that each one is valued to work and carry for this is disparaging and a continuous disgrace for a person with a precious soul. And also resulting from this will be jealously of a person towards his friend, for in a cohen’s evaluating a person for a lot according to his cleverness and later, due to his years, will be evaluated for a little, and one will burn out more than necessary. And in order to avoid these pitfalls, the Torah explained how much a person who vows [on the value] of a life should give for his vow according to his years whether poor, rich, wise, or unwise.
והנה בנדרים אשר כאלה לא רצתה התורה שיעריך הכהן את נפשות בני אדם כאלו הם סוס או חמור כי אולי אחד נודר בן חכם אשר לו ואם יעריכנו הכהן כל אשר לאיש יתן בעד נפשו. גם שלא היה ראוי שיעריכו בני ישראל בערך העבדים למה שוה כל אחד מהם לעבוד ולמשא כי יהיה זה גנאי וחרפה רצופה לאיש אשר לו נפש יקרה וגם שימשך מזה קנאת איש מרעהו שבהיות הכהן מעריך אדם אחד הרבה לפי שכלו ואחר משנותיו יעריך דבר מועט יתכב' האחד יותר מדאי וכדי להסיר כל המכשלות האלה ביארה התורה כמה יתן הנודר על נפש אחד מנדרו כפי שניו עני יהיה או עשיר חכם או סכל.
Truly, the Torah did not equate the male with the female in their valuation because nature made large difference between them. For the male was on the level of form [tzurah] and the female on the level of matter [chomer].
האמנם לא השותה התורה הזכר עם הנקבה בערכיהם לפי שהטבע הבדיל הבדל עצום ביניהם והיה הזכר במדרגת הצורה והנקבה במדרגת החומר.
Note: Abrabanel has a theory in the Creation story about these two levels; without further explanation, I think it can be understood that he is a claiming males to be on a higher level based on how they were created.

And if it was in the case of damages that the male slave was considered equal if the female slave, that is because that damage which is discussed there is to obligate the owner of the ox and it was not fit to obligate for the male slave above the female slave and it was enough for him in the damage to pay thirty shekel in that he did not steal with his hand, but it was rather due to the small negligence in it.
ואם היה שבענין הנזיקים השוה העבד אל האמה הנה הוא שמפני שהפגע ההוא אשר נמשך שמה לחייב אל בעל השור לא היה ראוי לחייבו על העבד הזכר יותר מעל האמה הנקבה ודי לא /לו/ בנזקו שישלם כסף שלשים שקלים על לא חמס בכפיו אלא מפני התרשלות מועט שהיה בו.
But in the matter of one vowing, where his thoughts are calm for him and he distinguishes in his vow if it is for a son or a daughter, and it is fit for him to give the value of each of them as they are.
אבל בענין הנודר שדעתו מתישבת עליו ויבחין את נדרו אם בן הוא אם בת היה ראוי שיתן ערך כל אחד מהם כפי מה שהוא.

Abrabanel thinks that giving each person a value of their actual worth to society is degrading. Nonetheless, he thinks that some qualities are just of a different value in their nature. While using this to justify a distinction between the value of a man and woman might be shocking for today, I think we might take some solace in a system that evaluates people based on an historical event and not based an attempt to estimate their actual value to society.

Finally, the Torah itself deals with equality on the other side of the system: not all people can equally afford such a vow. What if you vow to pay someone’s value but cannot? Here we see the Torah treating people differently in an attempt to make the system closer to equal for the rich and poor.
ויקרא פרשת בחקותי פרק כז
Leviticus, Chapter 27
(8) And if he is too poor [to pay] the valuation, then set him before the cohen and the cohen shall assess him based on what the hand of the vower can achieve the cohen shall assess him.
(ח) וְאִם־מָךְ הוּא מֵעֶרְכֶּךָ וְהֶעֱמִידוֹ לִפְנֵי הַכֹּהֵן וְהֶעֱרִיךְ אֹתוֹ הַכֹּהֵן עַל־פִּי אֲשֶׁר תַּשִּׂיג יַד הַנֹּדֵר יַעֲרִיכֶנּוּ הַכֹּהֵן: ס

The Mishnah here explains how even if you can pay back the value you owe, we nonetheless do not take all of your resources to make you pay your debt to the sanctuary, leaving enough for you to survive (though not necessarily your family). This seems to be a balance between taking the vow seriously, but not being willing to destroy a life based on a vow.

משנה מסכת ערכין פרק ו, משנה ג
Mishnah, Tractate Arakhin, Chapter 6, Mishnah 3
Even though they said that we seize valuation pledges, we give him three days of food, clothing for twelve months, a bed, bedsheets, shoes, and tefillin.
אף על פי שאמרו חייבי ערכין ממשכנין אותן נותנין לו מזון שלשים יום וכסות שנים עשר חדש ומטה מוצעת וסנדלין ותפילין
For him but not for his wife or children.
לו אבל לא לאשתו ולא לבניו
If he was an artisan, we give him two artisanal tools of each type.
אם היה אומן נותנין לו שני כלי אומנות מכל מין ומין
A carpenter, we give him two axes and two saws
חרש נותנין שני מעצדין ושתי מגרות
Rebbi Eliezer says, “If he was a farm-hand, we give him his yoke, and a donkey driver we give him his donkey.”
רבי אליעזר אומר אם היה אכר נותנין לו את צמדו חמר נותנין לו את חמורו:

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